Speaker interview

Fabrizio Calenti, Executive Director, Aquafil

How could the textile sector contribute to a more sustainable planet and which role could play novel biobased materials?

There is no doubt that the introduction of biobased materials (with lower environmental footprint) will play amajor role in next years, and represents a step forward into a more sustainable textile sector, which istraditionally associated to high Water consumption, wide use of chemicals and CO2 emission. However, shiftingfrom fossil- to bio-based ingredients does not represent a final solution, but only a starting point: the use ofbiomaterials is as important as their end of life, which is not supposed to be automatically sustainable becauseof the biobased origin. Indeed, characteristics like biodegradability or compostability are not directly linked tothe nature of the feedstock, but only to the chemical structure of the materials.That’s why sustainability cannot rely only on biobased materials, but can be only achieved through an “ecodesign”of the product, where the structure is conceived with the end in mind, and by using ingredients that canbe recycled or regenerated at the end of the product’s useful life.

In which activities/initiatives is Aquafil already involved and which further plans do you have in this respect?

In 2011, when Aquafil launched the ECONYL® Regeneration System as innovative platform that enables the chemical regeneration of Nylon 6 from waste, we have brought to market a Nylon 6 which does not rely on fossil feedstock. This has been the first step toward decoupling Aquafil’s production processes from crude oil, and such transition has been recently boosted by a new initiative, launched in 2018 in partnership with Genomatica: the production of the first ever biobased Nylon 6 via an innovative biotech route starting from renewable plantbased feedstock. The beauty of biobased Nylon 6 lies in its nature: made from renewable feedstock, thus avoiding to deplete limited fossil resources from our planet, it will be exactly the same as Nylon made from crude oil, and will be infinitely regenerable once it turns into waste. With the ambition of not only demonstrate the production of biobased Nylon 6, but also validate it in the manufacturing of yarns, fabrics and final product, the has been then expanded in project EFFECTIVE, a 4-years R&D project co-funded by BBI and the EC and involving the whole value chain.

Where do you see the biggest challenge for bringing more sustainable manufacturing/material technologies into the textile market?

It is of key importance not only to develop new materials that can match (or even exceed) the performance of the benchmark, but also that these materials can be further processed through the manufacturing technologies currently available, without requiring any significant adjustment or modification to each step of the supply chain which turns them into final products.
A further challenge is the potential higher cost of a biobased raw material, particularly in its early stage, when the novelty of the process and the infancy of its market penetration will not support its competitiveness. However, this hurdle can be overtaken by leveraging the growing appetite which consumers express for sustainable ingredients.

Fabrizio Calenti will be a speaker in the“CEO Panel” on 1 October, and the session: “Spotlight on textile and fashion – How to establish sustainability along the value chain” on 2 October.